Tuesday, June 12, 2012

New Zealand Bishops, ipad missals, and the Breviary

Over at Father Z's blog is a post about the bishops of New Zealand forbidding priests from saying mass using digital missals with their ipads or smart phones.

One point the NZ Bishops made was that the Missal is a sacred book whose use it specifically for celebration of mass. An ipad has many uses, both sacred and profane. Hence, there is something less than fitting about an ipad sitting on the altar as the vehicle of the texts for the ritual. In some kind of emergency situation where no mass at all could be said if the ipad were not used, then it might be okay, but normally, a genuine altar missal should be the default version. Makes sense.

This makes me think about our handy digital breviaries. Since the Vatican has already commended and approved at least one breviary application, I don't think that this kind of statement is likely to be made about print vs. internet Liturgy of the Hours. But it does give one pause.   I use my Kindle for the Divine Office, and also to read all sorts of books, from the sublime to the ridiculous. More recently, an iPod Touch has become a daily companion gadget. It's convenient to switch it on to ibreviary or universalis. But this same gadget also blasts the theme from Rocky, selections from West Side Story, and (blushes) John Denver and ABBA tunes when I'm doing a morning power-walk. And counts my calories. And amuses me with a slingshot that shoots cartoon birds at green pigs.

That's a little weird.
Until we're living in the age of --I dunno,the Jetsons? Where digital texts have pretty much replaced paper and ink--it does seem worthwhile to use our real breviaries whenever possible. This cautionary note from the New Zealand bishops makes me want to be sure to use mine at least once a day. I've already known for a long time that in general, using the book slows me down as I pray.Makes for a less distracted, more meditative experience.   And there's a certain symbolic value to turning away from the all-present Screen, leaving the world of Tech behind and attending to the Eternal. I've said it before: a breviary is a sacramental, an app is not. You might kiss the cross or Chi Rho symbol on the cover of your breviary as you open it or put it away, but you wouldn't kiss your ipad.

Don't get me wrong. Digital breviaries are a godsend, one of the things that redeems the internet. Without them, far fewer Catholics would be praying the Liturgy of the Hours today. I will never cease to promote digital breviaries as the best gateway to lifelong Divine Office habit.

But I just had to think aloud on this issue. I can't dismiss those New Zealand prelates as a bunch of out of touch old guys. And since liturgy is liturgy, I have to connect some dots between the missal and the breviary.
What do you guys think?